Friday, August 29, 2014

Albez Duz - The Coming of Mictlan (2014)

Try and imagine if you were to take the slow, sure pacing of a Gothic metal staple like Type O Negative and then garb that sense of steady tempo with rawer, drudging doom metal guitars redolent of anything from Celtic Frost to early Pyogenesis. Furthermore, capture a ritualistic vibe that ties all of this driving, dark sound into the current occult rocking hotness. Albez Duz, a German project put together by Impurus (of black metal veterans Dies Ater) is just such an unusual hybrid, and while it's not assembled with the most memorable riffing per individual songs, I think the production, the range of atmosphere and the dreary, dark ravings of co-conspirator  Alfonso Brito Lopez certainly help this to stand out from just about everything else I've heard lately... Note that I didn't say 'stand above', but certainly this was a curious enough trip that I'm like to remember the band's old Germanic, interesting name.

Organs, acoustic guitars and ethnic ambient sequences all tie into the album's conceptual matter, which I believe relates to Aztec mythology and the God of the Dead. And that's yet another reason this sophomore record is so compelling...which that subject has been broached before by a number of black or death metal bands, who would think it might hail from Germany and in this freaking style (though I believe Lopez might originally be Mexican)? That said, the metal components here are far more uniform. Corpulent bass lines ala the mid to late period Type O Negative, melancholic rhythm guitar chords somewhere between My Dying Bride and the even more funereal sect of the doom metal culture, with loads of organs and other keys which play into that aesthetic even further. But they'll the sludgy distorted deep end that sets up "Fire Wings" or the dark ritual ambient piece "Heaven's Blind" with its creepy, repetitious mantra and horrific sound effects. Drums are typically sparse tribal percussion but pick up into solid rock beats once the guitars start slowly pounding out their dismay, and the production on the whole disc is just so loud and involving that you can't help but be swept up into this strange nightmare of opaque, slothlike aggression and anachronistic instrumentation.

To make it even more bizarre, they cover Tanita Tikaram's "Twist in My Sobriety", a tune that was a little more popular in the late 80s in Germany than here in the States. They do a good job of taking the track and personalizing it, like it was being filtered through a funeral procession, with the slow and suffering guitars and organs obfuscating the original's pop qualities, and Lopez crooning in that oh-so-deep voice circa Peter Steele, Fernando Ribeiro or Johan Edlund at their most bleak. It does hemorrhage some of the memorability of the original, but it's an eclectic choice all the same. And that's really the most distinct feature of The Coming of Mictlan. It's influences are hardly hidden among its turgid lamentations, and there are moments where I definitely drifted off to memories of some of the other acts I've listed through the review, but the way they assemble all of this into the one vision is just not something one hears every day. I do wish the guitars were a little catchier, or at the least more evil sounding, since these chord progressions often seem a little bland when beholden to the ambition of the band's concepts and how they mesh together these disparate styles into one. But the production and the unusual aesthetics win out in the end, making this worthy of attention for those seeking some Gothic doom out on the fringe.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sentenced - Love & Death (1995)

The Love & Death EP was a bittersweet moment for me, since it represented the end of Taneli Jarva's tenure in Sentenced and thus my intense interest in the band. Not because of Jarva alone, but because once they picked up their new vocalist they took the tunes a little too far into the accessible/Gothic metal range, which would not be a problem if they excelled in that area, but they really did not after a spell...Down is probably the most solid of that era and there was a scarcity to the quality beyond that point. But something about hearing Jarva's manly growls and grunts over the band's conversion into melodic, rock & roll infused death metal made Amok a jewel among my collection, an album I still break out on a regular basis, one of my favorite Finnish metal albums in history...Love & Death, if nothing more, is a sorrowful farewell to that unusual chemistry which made the band so special to begin with.

It picks up with a tune that would have felt right at home on the prior album, "The Way I Wanna Go", which I had heard before this released and thus gave me every reason to acquire it. It does take on a little more of a Gothic rock direction with the echoing clean guitars and woeful, cleaner vocals that Jarva would use a lot more in The Black League later, but once it picks up and they start nailing us with those simple, melodic chord progressions he swerves back towards that enormous, imperfect and unforgettable roar. Lots of great riffs in this one, especially the little melodies with the wah wah that reflect the earlier guitar passage, and that glorious bridge where the synthesizers are splayed out behind the core band. "Obsession" is another highlight, way more chuggy rock & roll with a nice, crashing lead/bridge, and "Dreamlands" has an amazing synth intro, but the tune most people are going to make a b-line towards here is the cover of Billy Joel's "White Wedding", which with Taneli singing sounds just as hilarious as you'd expect...I mean they play it pretty close to the belt but it's awesome, I almost want this to be my default version of the song.

Jarva is just that lovable, like a massive teddy bear from a land of cold and suicides, and his weird charm sold me on this band just as much as the fantastic riffing on North from Here and Amok. That said, the EP does feel a little uneven in places, with some of the riffs and baselines feeling a little too polished for his growls. The rhythm guitar occasionally seems too loud or too soft, but it might also be that here the Finns were experimenting more with different guitar tones in conjunction to give it a driving pop feel in places, and a more trad metal aesthetic elsewhere. The final track, "Love & Death" itself, is an amalgamation of what's gone on before it on the EP, but for some reason it doesn't stand out to my memory as much as the rest of the content. At any rate, I've never owned the version that came with The Trooper single attached, but most people these days will luck out and get this for free alongside the Amok reissue, which this material mostly pales in comparison too, but was a worthy enough successor to the extent that I was quite excited to hear what the next full length with Jarva would have sounded like...aaaand got Down and The Black League debut instead, which were hardly rock-bottom but just not as good. Love & Death: Goth-tempered, enjoyable heavy metal.

Verdict: Win [8/10] (like she was at the End)

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Haunted - Exit Wounds (2014)

At their very best, The Haunted have always been a moderately entertaining union of the West Coast thrash of Slayer, the groove metal of the 90s and their more melodic Swedish death metal peers (whom some of them have also performed with). Coincidentally, the best I can say for Exit Wounds, their eight full-length album, is that it represents a fairly balanced fusion of the three. And yet there has always been something about this group's success which has evaded me...possibly because I've always felt that they were a distraction from Patrik Jensen's much better band Witchery, snatching away a few sweet riffs which would have been much better spent on that band, at least after their sophomore outing at which point they also provided diminishing returns. At any rate, The Haunted have a few good songs, a few dozen riffs of note scattered about their catalog, but also some truly wretched works, like their 2011 offering Unseen which was flirting with the idea that it could be a hard rock/melodic grunge album...


Well, the revolving Dolving door has swung again, and exited the band after that travesty, and so the Swedes have brought back the tireless and yet remarkably bland barker Marco Aro into the fold, to produce what for all purposes should have been the most explosive return to form one could hope for. Modern, punchy melodic death-thrash with plenty of chugathon grooves for everyone who misses the Dimebag Darrell style of riff sculpting, punctuated with eloquent enough, tasteful leads that if not inspired at least seem fluid. For those whose lives consist of endless bad tattoos, wallet chains, faux tough guy pretenses and all that other drivel that hijacked metal's subculture in the late 90s, a record like Exit Wounds must seem a godsend. Genuinely angry, riff progressions that are energetic and refined enough to impress the fuck out of anyone with a treasured Skinlab or Machine Head CD in his/her collection, and really, really wanting to be that muscle clad reinterpretation of Slayer that I sort of hinted at fact, there are particular rhythm guitar components to this disc (I won't need to point them out, trust me) which really just seem like paraphrased Hanneman/King passages, not to the extent of outright plagiarism but they have never and are not now hiding this overt influence.

The bass sounds fantastic, that I have to admit, with Jonas getting to build far more of a presence than he's ever really had in his mainstay At the Gates, and the rhythm guitars clear and destructive and in some places even exciting; and of course Adrian Erlandsson can do no wrong, his finesse being such old hat at this point that the problem with any album on which he participates is almost guaranteed never to be his fault, but some of these exhausted sounding groove/palm mute riffs here couldn't have been saved by Adrian and a half dozen other world class percussionists. Probably the biggest issue with me is that I just can't stand Aro's vocals...he's pissed off sounding, but the inflection he lets loose is just so indistinct, a burlier bigger brother to Anders Sydow (ex-Darkane) only lacking that off the hinges, sneering vitriol that I so enjoyed on that guy's performances. Hailing from Facedown, I never had many expectations for Aro in this band...he's a hard worker, he looks the part (wallet chain, etc), you can't question his commitment to what must be the most exciting project he's ever partaken of, but even Dolving had a more wild and charismatic approach to the material which is just so essential in the company of giants like Tomas Lindberg. Essentially, Aro strikes me as the Rob Dukes of melodic death metal...totally on board but expendable when you can get the more interesting singer back.

I emphasize: he's not terrible here by any means, but sort of like ...Made Me Do It or One Kill Wonder, I can only imagine how much more effective the songs would have been for me if they just had someone with a more vicious personality. The lyrics on these songs are also painfully average, a long string of cliched lines you can find anywhere in 'heavy music' involving personal struggles and relationships so forth...just read through a tune like "Psychonaut" (way to defile a fantastic video game, jerks!) and you'll understand what I mean. There's one song where shouts something like 'I Don't Want You Inside Me' or similar and I almost fell over laughing. This is high school level angst wrapped up in a package of superior musicianship, but not to the extent that I can really give it a pass. At times it is indeed explosive, the production is top notch boom box fight club-approved for tribal & kanji tattoo carvings, but at the end of the day it's just no Slaughter of the Soul, no Rusted Angel, and sort of dwells with the in betweeners like most of Terror 2000's body of work or their own prior output. Is it an improvement over Unseen? Why, absolutely, but so might losing your sense of sound altogether.

Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]

Friday, August 22, 2014

Kvalvaag - Noema (2014)

As increasing the distance seems between my own present reality and the black metal I so loved through the 90s, I can typically look forward to 2-3 records each year like Noema. Raw and rudimentary from a compositional stance, yet having just enough of a palatable personality that it vaults over the horde of faceless impressionists and impersonators churning out passe material month in, month out. Certainly this is not unique material, so I have to simply chalk it up to superior choices in songwriting, and the little tints of eerie and nocturnal atmosphere this gentleman lets creep into the music via the flavorful use of muddy organ tones and distant keys that lie nestled behind the intimidating walls of chords and tremolo guitars that he pummels through.
It's occasionally difficult for me to point out exactly what it is I hear in Kvalvaag's solo debut that I don't experience in so many of his peers, but I think it's his gritty choice in rhythm guitar tone, which feels like rusted belts being fed through dying engines. The structure of his riffs is nothing distinct or unusual when you look at the stereotypical Scandinavian black metal influences which inform it (Darkthrone, Mayhem, Gorgoroth, Burzum, etc.), but he occasionally inflects this monumental, glorious or rock-out rhythm which more than compensates for any bog-standard licks that might surround it. The vocals are traditional rasps, but pretty despicable when you have this turned at the appropriate (high) volume, with just enough airiness in there to follow through on that diabolic, frightening black/white color image which makes the album look as effective as it sounds. Bass lines are mired in darkness, but pumped at an appropriate volume; void of interesting choices, but that they groove the root patterns so effectively contributes highly to the propulsion of the faster material, and the 'swerve' of the slower chord patterns.

I believe the drums here are provided by Ishtar of Dödsfall, who might at times be considered a comparable act in this recent roots revival of the style in Norway proper (along with Furze, Djevel, and a handful of others), and they clash and hiss as is appropriate while never really letting their thunder abate during some charge section. Many of my favorite moments through these 40, though, are those aforementioned lo fi, unclean organ lines, which are extremely catchy if not original in construction, or the more symphonic embellishments the keys create when the other instruments are smashing along like a mad axeman through the silent, moonlit forestscape from which this evil emerges. A great album to experience as I near the precipice of the New England autumn, for its surely one I'm going to break back out as the temperature plummets and I feel far more at home. Perfect it isn't, and prone to convention, yet at the same time: evocative, memorable, unfriendly, and fucking savage.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Dicated - The Deceived (2014)

Always good to see Dutch death metal thriving, it's long been a scene I've kept my eyes on, from the early masters (Pestilence, Sinister, etc) through the considerable continuity of the 90s and beyond. Part of that is because it's in me blood, but really, it just seems like such a wonderful, balanced nation to hide such a grotesque underbelly beneath it. Perhaps the long-term effects of windmill-studded landscapes and delicious stroopwafels are more depressing and pathological than I would have predicted. Yeah, I'm being a stereotypical prick, but unfortunately the music on this Dictated sophomore record is every bit as cliche, not to the degree that they come off as some bumbling, incompetent fools, far from's yet another case where absolutely no originality and very little memorable songwriting add up to a real mundane listen, strange considering they got snapped up by the fairly high profile Metal Blade Records...

It's not just the music, either. From the surface in...the bland cover artwork which looks like it's going to be a groove metal or metalcore disc, the non-logo logo which would have been better left in the trash for the cheap cost of hiring an artist (I seem to remember seeing one somewhere, it was better than this). Dictated have a sound heavily derived from the British scene, in particular Bolt Thrower, both in the slower grooves, warlike melodies and basically just how these folks structure their chord progressions. More War Master and The IVth Crusade than Realm of Chaos, but unable to conjure that epic, grim hostility of their forebears. You could also say there was a little Benediction here...not the old stuff, but the charmless mid-period where the band sort of fell behind the rest of the veterans in effectiveness. Otherwise, there might be a little bit of a bland Asphyx/Sinister imprint on the riffing and composition, but it all just feels do dry and lacking in atmosphere. Essentially Dictated feel like another 'catch up' band, striving just to attain a sound that was already passe many years ago, rather than forging into new terrain, which death metal could really use right about now, since so many of the new generation of bands are just straight derivatives of this scene or that, this guitar tone or that particular band.

Take a group like Coldworker, and then drain away all the excitement and grinding explosiveness, leaving behind their more mediocre riff selections, and I feel like you'd end up with The Deceived. Sonja Schuringa and Jessica Otten (also in Temple, who I dig more than this), are perfectly adequate guitarists, shifting between tremolo picked madness, churning chords and the corrosive melodies I mentioned above, but I just don't feel like a lot of personality exudes from their choices of riff. All patterns are wholly paraphrased from the thousands that predate them, and the album lacks the punch of wild, memorable leads or inescapable atmospheric phrasing. Henri Sattler and Michiel van der Plicht of God Dethroned take on the role of rhythm section here, and are mechanically flawless, but that doesn't really enhance the rest of the record to a noticeable degree. The vocals are a pretty stock array of broad growls and punctual barks which fall somewhere between Barney of Napalm Death and Angela ex-Arch Enemy, but once again they come across as merely functional, without any sense of sadism, torment, or character that all the best death metal frontpersons convey; nor are they specifically gargled or amusing on a humorous level.

I don't want to hate on this record too much, because it's worst crime is really just the fact that if we were drafting some sort of 'fantasy league' of death metal albums this year, The Deceived would be one of the last picks on the bench, if chosen at all. Not terrible by any means; it's just really unimaginative...inoffensive and indistinguishable from so much else, which might be enough for some listeners, but if you've got decades invested as a fan of the medium, its rather expendable, and when one takes into account how bloated the scene is to begin with, it just doesn't have that staying fact, it doesn't really have much starting power. I haven't heard the self-released debut, so I can't compare this to that, but with luck they'll transform the apparent fluidity and professionalism of this effort (its strengths) into something more interesting and unique in the future. For now, I have to pass on recommending this.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]

Monday, August 18, 2014

Cerebral Paralysis - Cycles of Evisceration (2014)

Cerebral Paralysis is the collaboration of an Italian vocal brute and a Russian multi-instrumentalist who provides everything else, and they're definitely in that territory which walks the margin between straight out meat-slam and slightly more involved brutal death metal, though the overwhelming majority of the riff progressions here are painfully simple in execution. There are points where you feel like there's this potential to outbreak towards something more technical, but the end result is something sturdy and grounded and really most concerned with the basics of what this wedding of styles might sound like if stripped down to its birthday suit. Quite often I'll encounter a disc like this and come away without much of an impression one way or the other, since the style is just so commonplace, and Cycles of Evisceration doesn't exactly stick out enough to be hammered back down (like the proverbial nail), but there is one sticking point I simply can't deny...

And that is the hilarious liberty taken by Matteo Bazzanella as he Cycles between cookie monster guttural grunts and slightly higher-pitched, silly vocal patterns that remind me of something more rapped out or Korn-like. Now you might think I'm slinging that as some sort of insult, but I'm really not, it actually takes the album up a notch in terms of entertainment value, where otherwise it would just be another pretty typical brutal death metal grist for the mill. That's not to say there aren't other areas in which this sounds pretty solid, like the thick and fibrous rhythm guitar tone that gives the nearly endless palm muted phrases and trills a little extra crunch and impact, but I don't feel like there are many riff patterns here that really stand out from one another. They're often just a few notes apart in structure and the pacing, like a lot of slam-focused material is really just a range of 'mid-paced groove' to 'slower, sick pit groove' and only occasionally will they pick up the speed, and not even that much. Standard techniques like guitar squeals at the end of a muted phrase are pretty common here and serve to round off the material with a fraction of additional charisma, but Cycles is largely a very focused, workmanlike record, like a caveman hunter bashing in the skull of the same protein source day after become menial labor after awhile despite the aggression of the act.

Sounds fresh and in your face, with a functional rhythm section: drum beats pop right out while the bass is deep, punctual and taut with the root notes, but the surprises here come too "Paralysed and Broken" which seems almost to be injected with some Southern groove metal riffs circa Down and a weird, zippy guitar at the end of that progression; or "Lurking in Slime" which features some faster paced death meal tremolo lines in between the weirdness. Problem is that left field moments like these instantly make most of the other material seem rather inhibited and non compelling by comparison, and wonder what would happen if the duo just let completely loose to achieve something absolutely batshit gonzo. As it stands, Cycles of Evisceration is certainly not a bad debut if you're into the style...the cover art is fantastic, and the music certainly makes you want to ball up your fists and club someone or something repeatedly, but having heard this stuff performed so much more effectively with stronger riffs by a number of other bands (Katalepsy, for instance), I can't say it really stuck with me for long. If you just want pulverizing palm muted grooves, though, with a disgusting vocalist that will elicit a few giggles, then give it a try.

Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]

Friday, August 15, 2014

Those Who Bring the Torture - Piling Up (2014)

Anyone with a body of work as prolific as Rogga is bound to have some hits and misses; he's achieved some brilliant successes (like the Putrevore sophomore) and a lot of middle-of-the-road efforts, but who wouldn't when involved in so many projects? What I find pretty compelling is how his range of bands seems to reflect his own tastes/record collection that inspired him. He's got something to cover nearly every niche in the death metal genre, and Those Who Bring the Torture was presumably his paean to grinding death metal circa Napalm Death, old Carcass, Lock Up, and so I was a little perplexed when the first tune on Piling Up was more of a straight, slightly melodic take on old Swedish death circa Hypocrisy, with perhaps a few hints of other veterans like Benediction and Desultory in some of the chord patterns. This is the first of the four records by this project that I've covered, so it was not at all what I first...

Not that the disc 'rights itself' as it progresses, because there is actually a good deal of variation between tunes, some seeking out a more atmospheric pace, others a more thrash-based slew of riffs, and yet others mirroring the aesthetics of the first track. Yet there are a handful of tracks ("Through the Aeons" for example) which embody some of that 'fun' grind & roll ethic more akin to what I thought I'd be getting myself into, while "Towering Structures of the Damned" has a few fits of those calamitous old school grind-blast parts we grew up with. If we're ultimately going to try to 'pin down' this, one of Rogga's most diverse records to date, it's probably a junction between the heavier old melodic death metal (not 'melodeath', per se) and some really rootsy death/thrash, as you'll hear in the first moment of "Turrets of a Forgotten Castle". The songs aren't nearly so cosmic in nature as a lot of the Lovecraftian/horror titles might suggest, so I don't know how they measure up to that tremendous Robert Toderico artwork, but Rogga certainly focuses in on a few central ideas here and entertains with them. Riffs were a mixed bag of the derived and inspired, but cuts like "The Gateway", "Lifesucker" and "In Orbit" had me pining for the years when 'melodic' wasn't considered such a dirty word in traditional death metal, and records like Abducted and Bitterness were in regular rotation.

Production feels a little pieced together, without a terribly consistent tone throughout, so you do get the impression that Those Who Bring the Torture has undergone a reverse-metamorphosis back to the point where it's a place that Johansson is stockpiling and testing a number of ideas instead of having it all mapped out in advance, which is symptomatic of a number of his projects. That said, Piling Up (which may not be a coincidental title) is largely professional in that you can hear all the chords, the melodic tremolo picked patterns are delivered with as much impact as necessary, the bass takes on an uglier distorted subtext which contrasts well against some of the 'prettier' elements, and the beats are fluid solids which shift between simpler grooves and double bass brickwork. Rogga belches out both his usual gutturals and higher pitched snarls, a combination of which was most likely drafted forward from the older records and seems to be a standard for death/grind. Ultimately, like Putrevore is sort of a play on that old Incantation/Rottrevore style, this album most reminded me of Hypocrisy and their own fluctuations between the pioneering death metal and the more song driven, melodic direction of their mid-90s material. Perhaps not what fans of the earlier Those Who Bring the Torture output would have wanted, but certainly not bad at all.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Zenith Passage - Cosmic Dissonance EP (2013)

Another (late?) entrant into the Californian technical death metal sweepstakes, The Zenith Passage puts it own stamp on that divisive brand of punctual, proficient, eloquent, 'modern' aggression that is likely to drive half its projected audience to ecstasy and the other half to punch a wall repeatedly in frustration, partly because they could never play music like this and partly because it just isn't 'cool' man! NOT OLD SCHOOL. NOT AUTOPSY. MUST SUCK. Now, Cosmic Dissonance may not really live up to its namesake, since I was expecting something far more oppressive and alien judging by the beautiful cover artwork and title, but this is a slick, polished, and worthwhile outing for the most part, suffering only a few minor setbacks that will hopefully be addressed when they release something for Unique Leader, which has appropriately snapped them up.

You know the drill: variation in tempo and riff construction, fluctuated between fits of flashy speed and low end palm-muted grooves, a few of which seem frankly inane when paired up against so much else that The Zenith Passage has on offer. These guys work best when they're exploring the neo-jazzy melodies or clinical harmonic picking patterns that trace their lineage to bands like Cynic and Pestilence, and in particular they have a knack for incorporating these simpler, melodic tinges of guitar over the writhing and pummeling substrate. The guitar production is quite thin and clean, so some will consider it impotent for that reason, but if you're used to the style of bands like Obscura or the sophomore effort by The Faceless, you'll be right at home, and honestly it's a reliable means by which to ensure that the listener is going to experience all the notes on parade. The music is complex without becoming labyrinthine in execution, though there is an inequal distribution in terms of what riffs might be remembered and which obviously won't. In fact, a few of the arpeggios and 'tech' riffs in general seem quite commonplace amongst their peers, but these guys are very much capable of writing something good, they just have to shake out the temptation to launch into some dull deathcore groove or spazz out to remind us of their dexterity.

But I don't want to give the wrong impression...this is no Brain Drill, who try to cram so much into their brutech mating rituals that they work against themselves. The choices here are generally sound, enough that I enjoyed listening through the EP a number of times. The drums are off the hook, the bassist makes his present known with a few amazing fills, and the two guitarists play with such a mind numbing precision that I found myself quite absorbed in them. On the other hand, the vocals feel pretty average for this style, a bunch of taut Mullen-grunts that are occasionally layered within some deeper gutturals or snarls. Snappy enough with the syllables to fit the music like a glove, but I just feel bands of this nature would be so much better served by vocals with a more distinct pitch to them. Too few try it, they all take the safe route on which they employ the styles used by their influences in the 90s (Mullen, Lord Worm, Benton, Barnes/Corpsegrinder), and thus some of the potential personality is lost....

Otherwise, Cosmic Dissonance is very solid stuff, with only a handful of throwaway riffs and an almost limitless sea of possibilities into which they could swim from here, especially if they hold on to the astronomical lyrical themes. Love those cleaner, ambient guitar moments, and I hope they won't be afraid to delve further into that territory come full-length time, regardless of what the core meathead mosh audience desires of them. With some further refinement, they could have something on the level of the latest Fallujah disc, which was excellent, but either way this EP comes recommended to fans of albums like Cosmogenesis, Focus, Planetary Duality as well as some of their Californian peers like Arkaik, Decrepit Birth, Vale of Pnath and The Kennedy Veil.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10] (gravity strains, bending light)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Yogth Sothoth - Abominations of the Nebulah Mortiis (2008)

There's no question that the virulent retro death metal seed has impregnated Central and South America nearly as much as Europe and the US, but Yogth Sothoth of Colombia had the pleasure of getting their slithering appendages through the door a few years before it became a goddamn mandate, with a sort of admirable mesh of late 80s aesthetics with the earlier recordings of those lauded forebears of the East Coast US scene (Suffocation, Deicide and Immolation at the very least). So not only do we encounter a bit of the voluptuous, old school ominous tremolo picking progressions of bands like Death, Autopsy and Obituary, but also a healthy portion of the churning palm muted pre-slam we equate with a lot of the New York and later Floridian innovators who were further removing the death metal genre from its overt thrash roots. Add in the Lovecraftian theming, which is not remotely subtle on this or the Colombians' later compilation The Dark Waters Are Shaken, and you have a recipe for some success, at least if people are willing to dig back through the Sevared Records canon and spear this one up from the depths of R'lyeh.

I'm not saying it's a great record, and a lot of the material here is taken from the demo recordings of tunes that wound up on the 2009 comp, but when ingested as a whole, this is passable and ugly death metal which seems a little rare in that it doesn't just generically and genetically ape the aesthetic of one single band. Maybe a short list of 6-8 (some of which I listed above), but there is a real focus here on structure and riffing over impersonation, it's just that the results Yogth Sothoth achieve are not much different than their predecessors. Clinical picking sequences mirror old Pestilence or Death and are woven into tightly wrought, pummeling sequences circa Effigy of the Forgotten, but there is no shying away from enough variation that no two tracks on the disc sound quite the same. I really enjoyed how they used the percussion to great dramatic effect, often dropping out and back into some riffing cycles to give them a greater breath of impact, the old school way of setting up a neanderthal groove to let the crowd know it's about to happen and that they need to adjust their spines. There is not a lot of melody or memorability in the guitars on the whole, but they're flexible and concussive and you won't stop banging your head along even if that comes with an empty hope that they're going to break out into some truly brilliant riff execution...

The bass guitar gets lost a lot for me here, I can hear it hovering and swerving along but I would have loved it to pump out more from the speakers and attempt some more distinct notation to fill in the aesthetic cravings that some of the guitar riffs leave wide open. The vocals of Klisgor play out like a more muffled, guttural integration of van Drunen's grotesqueness with Frank Mullen's sense of punctuality embedded into the syllabic choices, and they also throw in some higher snarls to create that Glen Benton demonic duality. I don't love the guitar tone or really the production of this at all, but it's honest and clear enough for something lo-fi, and doesn't detract from that punchy, percussive intent captured by the rhythm guitars. As superficial a complaint as it might seem, I don't think the material really captures that dread horror aesthetic of Lovecraft to its fullest, relying almost entirely on brutality and rarely on atmosphere (apart from the "Prayer of Doom" intro), but then again not many bands who use the Mythos as lyrical inspiration really do. Yogth Sothoth WANTS me to feel the horror cosmic of its namesake, and most of the lyrics are amazing and frankly the best part of this record, but I just don't feel like the Elder Gods would champion themselves with such straightforward death metal...they'd seek out something more brain-meltingly dissonant and alien. Other bands have since incorporated a lot more of that into their material, but that doesn't stop Abominations from being a passable record (superior to the compilation)...just not a great one.

Verdict: Win [7/10] (the portal has been opened)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Xytras - Passage (1997)

I probably listened to the 'real' Passage so many times, and just so obsessively that first year it came out, that any reinterpretation, no matter how genuine, even from one of its composers himself, was due to fail for great credit goes to the Xytras 'symphonic' alternate recording of Passage that it does not. I can be one of those sticklers when it comes to remakes or covers, in all forms of media, from novel/comic adaptations to film to re-recorded metal records and so forth, but the beauty of this was that it might have proven the reality, the 'official' version of these songs all along. Hold up a sec, and let me clarify that this is not anywhere NEAR as good as the metal version, with Vorph's growling poetics and the amazing guitar riffs and atmosphere that they all create in contrast...but if you're going to produce an instrumental rendition of a masterpiece, whether by elevator muzak or flutes or a Broadway show, then it should at least strive for this level of quality and consistency.

There are a few dissimilarities in track choice here, with a pair of tunes being translated instead from Exodus than Passage ("Tribes of Cain" and "Winter Solstice" replacing "Liquid Soul Dimension" and "Chosen Race"), and the entire shebang being performed with keyboards/synthesizers alone. That is correct: no drums, no vocals, no guitars, no bass lines, just Xytras performing the material as if it had always been intended as a neo-classical soundscape, a lost Castlevania soundtrack, something that works pretty well when you think of a pine-studded mountainside after darkness, just as well as the cosmic and philosophical overtures provided by the lyrics on Passage itself. At times Xy layers in a lot more of an orchestrated feel, generally in sync where that was created on the metal renditions, and others it focuses more on just the haunted castle pianos. Generally it's impossible for this to feel as moving and dramatic as the harder versions, but surprisingly in a tune like "Moonskin" ("Mondhaut") which was so piano driven in the first place, it tends to come across even more sweeping due to the selected pads giving it that bolder, operatic atmosphere. Xytras' playing is busy enough to serve as proxy to the missing guitars, but he actually doesn't embellish the material very much with added lines, something I actually regret as a missed opportunity...

The music does lose some of its darker edge, naturally due to the absence of the rest of the band, the loss of impact from those electronic drums, but a few cuts like "My Saviour" ("Mein Retter") do capture much of that same magic. Is it a little pretentious that the titles are all in German? I suspect that was part of the intent, since this is probably more serviceable to that Euro Goth/Goth metal scene that several of their post-Passage recordings catered towards, but it might have also been that Xy wanted to differentiate this even more from the album that more people were going to know. On the other hand, it's rather telling that this was pretty much the end of this experiment, and that when the band would branch out into ambient/electronic pastures in the future (Era One/Lesson in Magick #1) it would focus on original material initially written specifically for that. But on hearing this, you can definitely hear how Xytras formed the basis of composition for the heavier tunes, and if you love the songs as much as I do then at least part of you would be curious to hear how they turn out in another genre. Hell, I love this Samael album so much that I wouldn't mind hearing it in fucking, to summarize: not as good as that 'real' Passage, but if you enjoy lashing out at things as Simon Belmont, or sipping wine with your Lindt chocolates, it's at least amusing.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Ordinance - Relinquishment (2014)

Ordinance might not be reaping any awards for originality, but they earn a few marks for having one of the most...unforgettable cover images you're likely to see this year, and also for maintaining a careful balance between the unleashing of traditional black metal blasted savagery and also eliciting these morose, slower elements which give the music a more dramatic atmosphere. It's not a wonder that they play with such meticulous craft, as the duo has appeared in a metric ton of other Finnish black and death metal acts like Slugathor, Totalselfhatred, Deepred, Ride for Revenge and the vocalist slash guitarist Wulture even plays live with Alghazanth. Relinquishment is a nine track, lengthy excursion which plays it pretty close to the belt of its genre, but is nonetheless a well rounded debut album that should please the longtime fans of Finnish and other Scandinavian peers and influences by providing some degree of escape while not obfuscating the roots it grew from. There were certainly moments on the album where I was less than impressed with riffing construction, but regardless I remained under its spell.

Immediately upon hearing this I was reminded of a mixture of Horna and Mayhem, with a more gruesome and nihilistic vocal style than the usual, craven beggar-rasps. Think of some of Attila Csihar's lower pitched growls but used more consistently (and less psychotically), though they often layer in a few other screams and barks for some variation. Impudicus isn't playing the most distinct beats in the black metal medium, but the guy can flip on and off to a tinny, blasted speed as smoothly as any of his peers, and the cleaner than usual production values on the album ensure that you can hear just about every strike and fill. Guitars have that fairly thin distortion which is pretty typical in the form, but it also lends a bleeding edge to what are generally melodic picking choices. Sad, downward spiraling progressions and lots of feeling out of the individual strings of chords during the more moderately paced, flowing sequences which were honestly my favorite on the album. It's not that the blasts are obstructive to the album's quality, only that the interaction of riffs and vocals on the slower parts give it a more haunted and eloquent impression of solemnity and abandon, and the drums really stand out against those raspier strings...not to mention the superb use of classical acoustic guitars which provide us with even more versatility and intensify that saddening, downcast environment the band is so fluent with.

These are not the most concise of compositions, but there were few points at which I felt like any sequence was being over-repeated or treading on boring, despite the familiarity I and many other listeners might experience with some of the chord patterns. No, I wouldn't go so far as to dub this material 'refreshing', since it's rarely innovative, but it does take an old, tired style and breathe some evil enchantment back into it, almost like the duo really gets into character with these ritualists on the cover imbibing lunar menstruation, an obscure, nocturnal sense of tribalism. If you lost a little faith in black metal, or would just rather it sounded closer to the 90s than the myriad of mutations that have since transgressed, then Relinquishment, like the works of several Finnish peers, is something that bears an innate appeal for you. On top of which, it's solid songwriting and consistent atmosphere with tasteful touches of the cleaner guitars or ambiance created just through the riffing patterns alone, hinging on hypnotic in its finer moments, and the product of two skilled individuals who are no strangers to the effects and affectations of the moon. Worthy stuff, when given the space to weave its evocations upon you.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Monday, August 4, 2014

Entombed A.D. - Back to the Front (2014)

It's always a shame when a long standing, relatively successful metal band like Entombed begins to unravel. Soon it gets ugly, the fans have all picked their sides, begrudge the future output by the members and fans from the 'opposition', and suddenly it feels like fucking junior high school instead of heavy metal music. Well, I already graduated from such an institution, and have no desire to return in this life, so whether I approve of the actions and/or statements of this or that member/expatriate of a band, it all comes down to the goddamn music. At the end of the day, I decide whether or not I enjoy a record based on the value of the record itself, not the questionable business ethnics, practices, politics, religion, or history of the roster. So Entombed A.D. might not be the 'real' Entombed, it might not be Clandestine II, it might be frowned upon by some of the founding members of the original band and their followers, but I'll tell you what it IS: a good fucking time. Not the best material they've written by a sizable margin, but if you've ever thrown down and enjoyed their death 'n' roll style circa Wolverine Blues, Morning Star, or Inferno, then this really hits the spot.

No, Back to the Front will not do what it's title might imply and thrust the Swedes back into the death metal spotlight, nor will it reel in those who fell out of touch with them after the first two albums, but these four guys had a collective contribution of about 45 years with Entombed, so if anyone's gonna be able to produce a relatively faithful continuity for what the original had been releasing since what I'd consider their 'slump' era (1997-99), it is this quartet. I realize there was a marginal chance we might have been getting something more akin to a successor for Left Hand Path, and perhaps that is where the other founders of the band might head, but this disc represents their strongest songwriting since 2001 and Morning Star, a blend of death, d-beat, punk, crust and thrashing rhythm guitars which affix their simplicity with reliable hooks and concise structure, but retain a lot of the ugliness of L-G Petrov's vocals and the bruising rhythm tone that they basically pioneered. But beyond just being another memorable punch in the gut, this is actually a fairly musical exhibition which is utterly unafraid to take a few chances, like introducing the strings at the intro to "Pandemic Rage", acoustic guitars, etc. Of course, it's the churning, enormous grooves, and evil winding guitar melodies that probably present the closest mirrors to the band's seminal Earache works, but I still feel like the Swedes haven't given up the idea that they can turn over a few new leaves...

Definitely a little more speed/thrash here in tunes like "The Underminer" or "Waiting for Death" that highlight the massive Slayer influence they've always operated under, but there are certainly a few of the morbid, mid-paced hooks that anchored records as widely spaced as Clandestine and Serpent Saints, although the production here is far more in the wheelhouse of the latter, a tidier mutation of their original, crushing guitar tone which plays well against the melodies and brute nihilism of Petrov's delivery, which sounds nearly as convincing to me here as anywhere else in their canon. The bass is as fat as my cholesterol levels, but somehow still manages to get lost just a little when the rhythm guitars are firing up the kiln, while you can really make out the toms, kicks and modest snare smashing in equal measure for a truly fulfilling, overall body to the sound. One of my favorite tunes on the disc, "Eternal Woe" is this slow, gloomy barbaric thrasher with some nice warped bell sounding strikes to the initial verse beats, subtle and clinical muted guitar lines and a chorus that just blows the roof off a cavern despite its lack of a really mind-boring melody or vocal line. "Digitus Medius" throws a devious, catchy melody right off the bat that probably belonged in the Hypocrisy catalog, and I particularly enjoyed how it returned for the chorus in chord form as the single most amazing riff on the whole disc.

Not all the tunes are equally interesting...for example the lead-in 'singles' that I had heard before getting the album, "Bedlam Attack" and "Vulture and the Traitor" have a few bum chord progressions that don't really excite me, but even these have at least an upswing in quality towards the choruses, and really I can't count a 'bad' track anywhere in the 11. Some might derive more than others from what they've released on prior albums, but there definitely seemed to be an enthusiasm about this material, a stripping down to the bare, brute necessities and then dressing them up with a skirt of the atmospherics, variation and even a sliver of the symphonic that they've encountered on their long road. As if after seven years of uncertainty they'd suddenly re-traced that vision which had begun on the second and third discs and decided to keep evolving it into a marginally more accessible strain, without going all mainstream or excessively 'rock' like the shitty Same Difference. It's just a solid, entirely Entombed experience, and whether you find yourself for or against L-G Petrov and these other, later members meting out the spiritual successor to what they were doing on the last record, give it a listen, it's good cruising music for that pickup with shotgun rack, crushing music for an angry soul. It doesn't do either brand a disservice.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]

Friday, August 1, 2014

Veldes - Skyward EP (2014)

One thing I kept thinking back to as I was exploring this new Veldes EP was how Tilen Šimon (aka Isvaroth) has such a flair for cautious material held at a steady pace to provide patient emotional impact, only rarely fielding the explosions of frost tinted, blinding speed we associate with a lot of traditional black metal. Whether or not that makes Skyward partially folk metal, or black/doom I really don't need to delve into, but the result is that the music takes on this almost cinematic, sentimental form that I often equate with veteran composers like Hans Zimmer on some of his more recent material (Inception, etc) where the slow pianos hit those exact right notes, only here they are complementary to the powerful, catchy and simplistic chord patterns and driving double-kick's quite overwhelming when coupled with the hideous black metal snarls that Tilen will often sustain over entire note phrases.

Two of the four tracks here, the first ("Skyward" itself) and last ("Gone") are purely instrumental pieces using the keys which most closely manifest the principle I mentioned earlier, and both are gorgeous of their own accord, but the 9 minute "Woe Eater" also holds consistently to this theme with the pianos lightly caressing the burgeoning, melodic chords. This is also the song where he lets us know that we're not entirely in the safe zone by battering the life out of us with this concrete black metal blast sequence. "Of Rain and Moss", the other metallic track remains the slower, grandiose tempo and ties the harsher elements in with the instrumentals, though I found this was actually the most repetitive feeling tune among the four, though not at all bad if you like slower, sure footed melodies embroiled with angst and suffering. Bass lines are simple and generally tend towards the root notes of the rhythm guitar, but I can't imagine that by being busier or complex they would add much to the songs' unerring sense of sadness, like the fog slowly dissipating from the woodland scene in the cover picture.

I did find the vocal mix irksome, not because I don't enjoy Tilen's soul-baring rasps, which go sailing over the forested hillsides like blackbirds slowly plummeting from the heavens, but because there seemed to be a little too much of a buzz or distortion on the vocal track. Also I found myself wondering just how much more elegant these tunes might feel with soaring clean vocals, or a mixture of the two styles, but at least he's got one of those down pretty tight. Otherwise, I think this is slightly stronger material than last year's full-length To Drown in Bleeding Hope. The two instrumentals are beautiful, the way he weaves that style into the heavier material is also quite memorable. Riff progressions are mildly predictable, and he could probably construct melodies that come at you more from left field, but all in all, if you experience this EP in the proper climate, it conveys the sense of beautiful, maudlin desperation that Veldes no doubt set out to achieve, and those fond of slower, atmospheric black metal which doesn't shy away from piano sounds should find it appealing.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]